A new $2 million web project launched by King’s College London is offering users a new way to visually digest biblical Scripture through the analyses of classic and contemporary works of art.
The United Kingdom-based public research university officially launched a website titled Visual Commentary on Scripture, a project that has been over a year in the making and was made possible by a donation from billionaire U.S.-based philanthropists Roberta and Howard Ahmanson.
The project, which aims to cover every book in the Christian Bible, uses works of historic and modern visual art that reflect messages found within passages of Scripture.
According to the project’s director, the VCS aims to make it easier for people to see the “bridge between the historic traditions of Christianity and the art world.”
“What we are seeing now, and I think it is a new moment in Christian history, more Protestant and Evangelical churches have a very strong desire of wanting to use a visual language in the mission,” King’s College professor of Christianity and the arts Ben Quash told.
“Visual language is a new kind of currency among young people who talk to each other all the time in visual language by sharing images on So churches who want to communicate the Gospel for young people who talk in images are having to take images seriously. I think that is very exciting because it means that there is a new opportunity to draw people into reading the Bible through using visual arts.”
Each passage of scripture included in the VCS will have three accompanying works of visual art that all relate to the biblical passage in question. Each painting associated with the scripture will have their own commentaries written by a select writer or author.
The commentaries of the paintings reflect on the historical perspective of the time period the artwork was completed as well as perspectives on the passages of Scripture they are associated with.
As of now, there are nearly 100 passages of scripture completed by the project, each with their own three paintings and accompanying reflections.
One example is the VCS exhibition of the “Sermon on the Mount,” which is accompanied by a 1481–1482 fresco by Italian painter Cosimo Roselli, a 1442 fresco by Italian painter Fra Angelico and a 1598 oil painting by Flemish painter Jan Brueghel the Elder.
According to Quash, the goal is to have over 1,500 scripture exhibitions included in the project with about 240 being produced per year.
The shortest scriptural passage in the project currently is two verses long and the longest passage is three chapters.who joined King’s College London as its first professor of Christianity, that the goal to reach 1,500 exhibitions could take five years or more. But Quash believes the project will enable people to read the Bible in a new way.
“This is something that people wherever they are … they can engage with a short passage of Scripture and have their imagination kindled by the works of art and be stimulated to come into the presence of the biblical text through their hand-held devices and computers,” Quash stated.
“Wherever they are, they have an invitation to read the biblical text through the attractiveness of visual imagery. That for us is a big motivation. We can reach people who probably wouldn’t otherwise be reading the Bible and also enriching people who have a great relationship with the Bible already by giving them new ways to explore, new ways to relate to it.”
As the exhibitions are composed by various authors, Quash maintains that he and his King’s colleagues maintain a very high level of standard.
“Although we want to reach a very wide public, nevertheless it is a scholarly project,” Quash, who heads the first master’s program in the world that is a joint enterprise between a theology school and a major international art gallery , said.
“Those who write for it have to write for a non-specialist audience. We expect them to do their homework and go and read about the Bible passage and read about the way it has been interpreted historically and read about the works of art that they want to use. They don’t just go throwing out their opinions but actually ground them in detailed research. It will be a more enduring resource as a result of that.”
Quash said that the biggest challenge the project faces is getting artwork and writers from outside of North America and Europe. The project does already include a few pieces of art from Latin America, Asia, and Africa.
“It is very important to me that we have art and people writing from beyond the Western world,” Quash stressed.
Quash also aspires to have the VCS available in several world languages, including Chinese.
He is also hopeful the VCS will be used an educational resource in schools and colleges throughout the world.
“Someone might give it as a class assignment and tell their students: ‘Go and look at this art. It has been arranged on the VCS site and your project is to go and do your own exhibition,’” Quash imagined. “That will get them thinking about the text and visual art in relation to the text.”
According to Quash, the project was partly inspired by the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, a multi-volume book set in which the biblical text is surrounded by classical commentary from early church theologians.
“The idea was to get people to realize the depth of the commentary tradition in the early centuries of Christianity and give them an opportunity to read the Bible in the company of the great early church theologians,” Quash said.
“Instead of textual commentary gathered around the Bible passages, what we did was works of art that people selected how the texts interact with the works of art. In a way, the nearest model we have is this Ancient Christian Commentary. But it takes a big step beyond that by going into the visual realm.”
Irish Bishop Against Practicing Yoga in Christian Schools
An Irish bishop has written to Catholic schools urging them to ban yoga as it is ‘not of Christian origin’ and the children should spend their time ‘in adoration of Jesus’ instead.
Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan, wrote to principals, teachers and school staff members in Waterford City and County, Ireland, on October 10.
In his letter, he said: ‘Yoga is not of Christian origin and is not suitable for our parish school setting and especially not during religious education time.
‘I have been asked by several people to say a word on yoga and mindfulness. My question is, ‘Will they bring us closer to God or replace him?’
The bishop claimed that Christian Mindfulness is ‘meditation on Christ’ which empties the mind of ‘everything unnecessary’ in order to become ‘aware of the presence and love of Christ’.
While he also quoted Pope Francis that practices like yoga are ‘not capable of opening our hearts up to God’.
The bishop added how people can ‘take a million courses in spirituality’ but this activity ‘will never be able to give you freedom’, echoing Pope Francis’s speech in 2015.
He said Pope Francis’s philosophy was in keeping with Ireland’s Grow In Love programme. This touches on Christian doctrine, Scripture, morality and prayer.
Teacher’s were reminded that October is the ‘month of the Rosary’ and they should each pray in a bid to get closer to Jesus, in the letter.
But the primary school curriculum allows a degree of flexibility about how its implemented, according to the Irish National Teachers Organisation, who hit-back at his view.
John Stokes, a yoga instructor in Waterford, said the practice of yoga, meditation and mindfulness should be ’embraced’ in ‘an age where children are really suffering from anxiety and stress’.
‘There is no dogma taught in our classes and Yoga in it’s truest sense is a movement and breath awareness practice for health and wellbeing.
They said ‘here’s to tolerance, love and unity’ and invited him to a one-to-one yoga session or class of his choice’ at their Wellness Centre in Youghal, Ireland.
The Irish National Teachers Organisation said the primary school curriculum allows schools a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy with regard to its implementation.
They said the schools ‘are best placed’ to make the decisions about how the subjects are taught, taking into consideration the ‘school culture, ethos and needs of the pupils’.
This is not the first time Bishop Cullinan has received backlash for his views as he said he was to establish a ‘delivery ministry’ group to rid people of the devil through exorcism, last year.
He also claimed the cervical cancer vaccine could lead to promiscuity in 2017.
The bishop said the vaccine ‘lulls girls into false sense of security’ and encourages sexual activity, adding: ‘Prevention, the number one and most effective protection, is abstinence. A good old traditional value.’
He later apologised and admitted he was not fully informed about the vaccination programme. Cullinan’s ‘intention was solely motivated to protect people from HPV’.
China Demolishes 3,000-Seat Megachurch during Worship Service
The People’s Republic of China destroyed a church that reportedly could seat 3,000 people and detained its pastors, according to a human rights organization.
An international nonprofit Christian human rights group based in Texas, reported the incident in a statement released Saturday. According to the group, Chinese authorities provided no legal papers to justify the demolition.
The church was located in Funan, Anhui province. Its pastors, Geng Yimin and Sun Yongyao, were detained under suspicion of “gathering a crowd to disturb social order.”
China Aid President Bob Fu said in a statement that the incident was “yet another clear example showing the escalation of religious persecution today by the Chinese Communist regime.”
“The total disregard of religious freedom’s protection as enshrined in the Communist Party’s own Constitution tells the whole world President Xi is determined to continue his war against the peaceful Christian faithful. This campaign will surely fail in the end.”
While China’s persecution of religious groups has existed for many years, recently under President Xi Jinping a wave of crackdowns on religious practices in China has taken place.
The Communist government has destroyed or damaged several churches, reflecting concerns about the increasing Christian population of the country.
In the summer, True Jesus Church in Henan province was razed to the ground, according to persecution watchdog Bitter Winter. Police officers reportedly dragged out all believers from the church before they demolished the property.
Bitter Winter also reported last month that the Ten Commandments have been removed from nearly every Three-Self church and meeting venue in a county of Luoyang city and replaced with the President Xi Jinping’s quotes as part of the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to “sinicize” Christianity.
In addition to cracking down on its Christian minority, China has engaged in violent persecution of its Uighur Muslim and Falun Gong communities.
The China Tribunal, a human rights group, told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month that the Chinese government is harvesting organs from religious minorities, with possibly hundreds of thousands of victims.
“Forced organ harvesting from prisoners of conscience, including the religious minorities of Falun Gong and Uighurs, has been committed for years throughout China on a significant scale, and that it continues today. This involves hundreds of thousands of victims.”
“Victim for victim and death for death, cutting out the hearts and other organs from living, blameless, harmless, peaceable people constitutes one of the worst mass atrocities of this century.”
UAE to rebuild Iraqi churches destroyed by Daesh
The United Arab Emirates, a Muslim-majority country, has pledged its support to help rebuild two historic churches in Mosul, Iraq. The efforts come in conjunction with UNESCO’s initiative, Revive the Spirit of Mosul.
Al-Tahira Syriac-Catholic Church and Al-Saa’a Church in Mosul were both destroyed by ISIS and are being rebuilt under a program to help postwar Iraq. Al-Tahira, an 800-year-old building, was damaged during mass raids in 2017 while Al-Saa’a was blown up by ISIS terrorists in 2016. The rebuild efforts will target to employee up to 1,000 locals and increase the city’s tourism economy.
UAE’s support of Iraqi Christians comes as part of their 2019 “Year of Tolerance” as proclaimed by the President, Sheikh Khalifa. The goal of the initiative is to place the UAE as a model of tolerance and increase communication between divided groups. The Abrahamic Family House, a religious facility that includes a mosque, church and synagogue, is another portion of UAE’s proposed religious tolerance efforts.
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